There was historically the opinion that women “’are supported by, and they minister to men’ – there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. …There would always have been that assertion – you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that – to protest against, to overcome." Woolf quotes “Dr. Johnson’s dictum concerning a woman preacher, transposed into terms of music. "Sir, a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.’”
Woolf notes that writers didn’t mention what state of mind they were in when they wrote their works of genius, at least not until the arrival of “nineteenth century self-consciousness.” We know what Carlyle, Flaubert, and Keats went through when writing their masterworks. “And one gathers from this enormous modern literature of confession and self-analysis that to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the writer’s mind whole and entire. Generally material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down .... But for women, I thought,..these difficulties were infinitely more formidable. In the first place, to have a room of her own…was out of the question…. Since her pin money, which depended on the good will of her father, was only enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking tour, a little journey to France. … The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility.”
We didn’t tell the Irish, “Time’s up! They’re growing potatoes again. Go back home.” We didn’t tell the Jews, “They’re not killing Jews any more in Ukraine. Go back home.” We didn’t even tell the Vietnamese, “The war’s over. Now go back home.” We did kidnap Africans. They raised our children, built our homes, grew the food that sustained us, and worked our fields, creating prosperity for the rest of us, and then, and then, and then, we told them to go back home. Yes, there was a time when there was a movement to send the black people back to Africa, though when southern Americans were not busy terrorizing black men for looking a white woman in the eye, they were turning Africans more white. When we grew impatient with the tiresome Native Americans, we set them on fire, slaughtered them and their children, and sent them to march to Oklahoma, or Canada, or someplace else, where they froze and starved. Indians have been called bad well into my lifetime – the Lone Ranger, and – now listen, “Tonto,” which means “Moron,” was my favorite radio program when I was a child. We put Indians in the dry places so they would thirst, and killed their buffalo so they would starve. When they refused to die off, we took their children away to turn them into “Americans.” Americans. I walked through Dachau, imagining the smoke curling into the air, the crowds being sorted, the Germans eating their schnitzel in comfort and plenty. And at the end of the tour, I felt nothing. Why? How could I be so hard-hearted? I turned away from the last exhibit in their museum of things , and said, how hypocritical you are, Ann. If there had been six million Indians, we would have tried to kill them all. Yet there was no strange fruit hanging from German trees. Even Anne Frank did not feel the terror that African-Americans felt, sometimes every day. At least she could hide. And we call ourselves righteous. We are Philistines, moneychangers in the temple, we are the pharaoh trying to bring the plague on his slaves. We are Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (or, as the Rev. William Barber refers to the last of those, “A Bad Negro”) into the fire for not worshipping the golden image. When I visited Memphis in 1961, there were WHITES ONLY signs, and sharecroppers doffed their hats and lowered their heads when our host came by, "Mawnin' Mistah Hickman." Joseph McCarthy lived in my lifetime. Lynching, segregation, serfdom, and McCarthyism are not "history." They happened in my lifetime. I thought the hippies had brought some light. They said, smoking their peace pipes, “Hey man, we’re all the same.” They loosed women, wrote music that still inspires us, and refused to kill a made-up enemy half a world away for what looked like, and proved to be, no reason. They dared prison by burning their draft cards. They formed communes so they could be there for each other. But war, criminal political behavior, cynicism, and fatigue broke us. We were reviled for our peaceful thoughts, and humiliated. We were thrown out of the temple because we wore our hair long and the men wore plaid pants. We made ourselves strangers to our own land, and were beaten down. It takes stamina, courage, and persistence to win. We can look at our black neighbors to see what that looks like, and they still haven’t won. I have energy left from those days of hope and togetherness in my youth. And a lot of anger, too. It’s time for young Americans, and young people living in America even if they are not “Americans,” to grasp the country and make it in their image, but I will help.
Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister with a gift equal to his. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lot her health and sanity to a certainty.” She speculates that a girl thus gifted could not have “walked to London and stood at a stage door…without doing herself a violence,” seeming to suggest she would have been sexually molested. “Chastity had then, it has even now, a religious importance in a woman’s life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest. To have lived a free life in London in the sixteenth century would have meant for a woman who was poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have killed her. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century.” She mentions George Sand, and George Eliot, “all the victims of inner strife as their writing prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man. …publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity runs in their blood.